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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004—Continued

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, military planning is about balancing risk and cost. Resources will always be limited. And actions will always incur costs, whether financial or political. In the fiscal year 2004 Defense Authorization Bill, the Bush administration sought to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons that would risk blurring the distinction between conventional and nuclear arms. While the financial cost of this decision would not be insignificant, the political costs internationally—and the costs to America's security—could be enormous.

Since the dawn of the nuclear age, the United States has sought to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. We have signed treaties, we have cajoled allies, we have threatened adversaries, and, in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, we made it the stated goal of the United States to pursue real nuclear disarmament. The President has stated that the spread of nuclear weapons, when taken with the global danger posed by terrorism, represents the greatest threat to America's security. We have fought one war over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We are locked in a perilous stalemate with North Korea over their nuclear weapons program. We remain concerned about the pursuit of nuclear weapons in places like Iran. And we worry that the Indian-Pakistan border might witness the first exchange of nuclear arms.

We find ourselves in an increasingly contradictory position. On the one hand the Bush administration says that it will pursue whatever measures might be necessary to stop the spread of nuclear weapons around the world. Ye in our own affairs, the administration has broken dangerous new ground. Their Nuclear Posture Review urged the development of new nuclear weapons in order to target deeply buried, hardened targets or chemical and biological agents on the battlefield. Earlier this year, the president signed an order raising the prospect of American first-use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state. These are dangerous and sobering developments. They underscore the perils of this new age. But these policies do not make us safer. Indeed, I would argue they risk making us less secure.

The greatest challenge to the security of the United States is the threat of terrorist armed with weapons of mass destruction. There is little debate of this assertion. At a time when stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and securing those that already exist is the principal security challenge of our time, it is inconceivable to me that the Bush administration would seek the authority to develop new weapons of our own. It is another example of the administration acting unilaterally and damaging America's long-term interests in the process.

The most effective means to thwart the nuclear ambitions of others is our own moral leadership backed by unquestioned military might. That moral leadership is predicated on the way we conduct ourselves. In short, our efforts to keep nuclear arms out of the hands of others will lack international credibility and support—and ultimately success—if we are determined to develop new nuclear weapons of our own. Without international support, our best efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons will be greeted with cynicism and, quite simply, fail.

Our unquestioned military might is not predicated on the development of new nuclear weapons or our ability to target underground bunkers with nuclear bombs; rather it flows from our investment in conventional arms, our ability to project power around the world, our demonstrated capability to strike any point on the planet with precision, and the investment we make in the men and women of our armed forces.

In fact, the United States alone has demonstrated the ability to achieve near-strategic effects through the use of conventional precision munitions. No other country can do that. No other country is even close. Given that fact, it is not clear why this administration is willing to bear the international costs of developing a weapon that will raise new questions about America's intentions and hinder our leadership in the fight against proliferation without providing any new military utility.

The two most likely scenarios in which United States military might use these new weapons, whether low-yield nuclear weapons or larger bunker-busters, are in striking deeply buried, hardened targets and in defeating chemical and biological agents on the battlefield. In both cases, there are conventional alternatives to the use of nuclear weapons. Deeply buried and hardened facilities can be disabled by using conventional munitions to seal their entrances. Other munitions such as incendiary and thermobaric bombs have proven effective in Afghanistan. A nuclear detonation, in contrast, would eject a plume of radioactive debris that would contaminate the surrounding region, sickening civilians in the area and endangering the well-being of American military personnel. Crossing the nuclear threshold to accomplish these missions would be overkill, it would violate accepted norms of behavior, and it would produce a damaging political backlash against the United States and our interests.

There has emerged in recent years an American way of war. Different observers have ascribed different characteristics to it, but nearly all recognize that among its features is a concern and respect for non-combatants.
The Secretary of Defense has even noted the additional risk taken by our aircrews to avoid civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq. The use of nuclear weapons, however, would imperil anyone near a target with exposure to dangerous levels of radiation, introducing a new horrific possibility to the euphemism "collateral" damage.

Some have contended that a low-yield nuclear weapon, detonated at some depth, would provide shielding from the dangerous fallout associated wit nuclear detonation. According to Rob Nelson, a nuclear physicist at Princeton University, however, a nuclear bunker buster with a yield of one-tenth of one kiloton—about two hundred times smaller than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima—would need to penetrate to a depth of 230 feet prior to detonation for the earth to absorb the totality of the blast. To provide some perspective, the Pentagon's only current nuclear earth penetrating weapon can reach a depth of only about 20 feet in dry earth. At this depth, a 0.1 kiloton weapon would eject hazardous debris and likely fail to damage a robust, deeply buried, hardened structure.

Finally, by pursuing new, "usable" nuclear weapons designs, this administration underscores to every rogue regime in the world the value of nuclear arms, whether that value is real or not. This is the wrong message for the United States to send. In its place, we must find new ways to demonstrate to countries around the world that these weapons are affordable, unusable, and undesirable.

Now is the wrong time to consider developing a new class of American nuclear arms. Instead of researching and developing new weapons, we must redouble our efforts to secure the nuclear weapons already in the world's inventories and safeguard the stores of nuclear materials scattered in unsecured facilities around the world. There is simply no compelling need for a new generation of nuclear weapons. They will not add any meaningful value to our arsenal. But they will undermine our efforts to stem the growth of nuclear stockpiles around the world while making America less secure and the risks of war and catastrophic terrorism even greater.

The future is not about a return to the city-busting bombs of the past, nor smaller yield nuclear weapons that might blur the distinction—in some minds—between conventional and nuclear arms. Rather, the future is about eliminating the threat posed to us all by such weapons. Our strength and our power at this moment in history is unrivaled. Now is the time for bold leadership that makes the world safer from nuclear dangers, not more eager for new weapons.

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